Kentucky Derby prep races open for Final Four games

April 03, 2009 | Gary Quill

For all the NCAA basketball Final Four geeks, get your sports TV viewing off to an early start. At 5pm, tune into NBC for live thoroughbred horse racing coverage of the Illinois Derby (Post Time 5:15pm) followed by the Santa Anita Derby (Post Time 5:36pm). Then at 6pm you can turn to CBS and waste the rest of your night watching 4+ hours of basketball… or just wait until Monday night to see UNC destroy UConn. It’s your choice. 


That’s the great thing about horse racing… instant gratification! In this case, “instant” equates to about 12 minutes. The athletes enter the “playing field” (aka track) to warm-up about 10 minutes before “game time” (aka Post Time). Then it takes less than 2 minutes to witness the entire game (aka race) unfold and see the final outcome (aka winner). On Saturday, at Hawthorne (Chicago) and Santa Anita (Los Angeles) race courses, you can get a double dose of instant gratification, in a span of 25 minutes, where two of the three Kentucky Derby prep races are being contested. The third is the Wood Memorial (NY) at Aqueduct (Post Time 5:19pm) which can be seen live on both TVG and HRTV.           


Starting with the 52nd running of the $500,000 Grade 2 Illinois Derby, this may be the best one from a wagering concern of the three. Tampa Bay Derby winner Musket Man (#8; 7-2 M/L) is the lukewarm Morning Line favorite, but the race sets up nicely for MD invader, Perfect Song (#6; 6-1). With the scratch of Lord Justice (#3; 8-1), who will run in the Wood Memorial, this leaves Perfect Song as lone speed in this 1 1/8 mile race. Without being pressed on the front end, he has the ability to go gate-to-wire, as did recent Illinois Derby winners Recapturetheglory (2008), Sweetnorthernsaint (2006), Greeley’s Galaxy (2005), Ten Most Wanted  (2003) and War Emblem (2001). Nowhere To Hide (#1; 5-1) should improve as trainer Nick Zito takes blinkers off of him for the first time since racing last Fall in New York. Al Khali makes his second start in the states for Todd Pletcher. The fact that Cornelio Velasquez makes the trip to Chi-town to be in the irons indicates his chances are better than fair. Giant Oak (#2; 9-2) has had an excuse filled 2009 campaign, so he must deliver a victory here to get in the Kentucky Derby field on May 2nd. 


The $750,000 Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes features eight runners going the 1 1/8 mile on the Aqueduct oval. I Want Revenge (#2; 4-5 M/L) will be the consensus pick to duplicate his eye-popping 8 length Gotham Stakes victory. Runner-up in that race Imperial Council (#5; 2-1) will benefit from a likely lively pace, which is why lifetime turf runner and closer, Lime Rickey (#7; 20-1) could sweeten the exotic payouts. The latter will have no problem with the distance but multiple graded stakes placed runner West Side Bernie (#1A; 6-1; coupled with #1 Atomic Rain) might get leg weary in the stretch and barely hold on for minor purse money, disappointing his connections who may have to reconsider a trip to Louisville even though he already has enough earnings to guarantee a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.      


Finally, the $750,000 Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby boasts two colts going the 1 1/8 mile route trying to win their fourth in a row. Morning Line favorite The Pamplemousse (#10; 9-5) and second choice Pioneerof The Nile (#4; 2-1) have opposite running styles. The way this race shapes up, it should favor “Pioneer”, whose owner Zayat Stables have entered Z Day (#2; 15-1) a speedball who has one task, force The Pamplemousse to run quick fractions. In theory, this will help stretch running “Pioneer” as the hot early pace cooks the two who set it, along with Take The Points (#7; 10-1). Others who will benefit from the early speed “backing up” in the stretch will be Mr. Hot Stuff (#5; 8-1) and Gallant Son (#9; 15-1).


Complimentary Past Performances for the Illinois Derby, Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby are available at Enjoy the exciting chase scenes thoroughbred horse racing has to offer. Good Luck.  


BTW – The 3rd Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool is now open through Sunday, April 5th at 6pm, EDT.